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September 16, 2011

The end of the US postal service?

In a further sign of the steady deterioration of the US infrastructure, the US postal service may become the next victim of the oligarchy's drive to eliminate anything that does not benefit themselves. The US postal service is an institution that is committed to serving people all over the nation and it delivers mail to even the remotest parts of the country at the same cost to anyone anywhere. So those of us in the cities where the volume of mail is large essentially subsidize the mail services of the more remote areas. It is a socialized system (i.e., one that spreads the cost over the entire population and thus makes it affordable to everyone) and thus targeted by those who oppose any measure that promotes the general welfare. Chuck Zlatkin describes the campaign to destroy the postal service. If it succeeds, the US will be the rare (only?) country that does not have a national mail system.

Phil Rubio explains to Stephen Colbert how the postal service has been shackled and the efforts being made to save it.

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Comments

To no surprise, the idiots who want to end the US Postal Service are so short-sighted that they can't see how detrimental it will be to US businesses. When the only way to ship something is by courier at twice the price, a lot of people will buy fewer things.

On top of that, the only companies that could - temporarily - eat part of the cost are large corporations, not small businesses. Many smaller firms will be driven into bankruptcy because they can no longer compete for business, lowering the tax base and increasing unemployment.

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Posted by P Smith on September 16, 2011 03:52 PM

Does anyone else find it amusing that one of the very few things that the Federal Government is undoubtedly authorized to do (via the Postal Clause) is now on the block? And this despite it being already largely privatized.

Posted by Nathan & the Cynic on September 16, 2011 07:46 PM

Mano - Thanks for the link to the Zlatkin article. What a stitch-up: require them to fund retirement benefits 75 years into the future, then hold them up as an example that even partially government-run enterprises don't work. Meanwhile, the fully private banks ride off into the sunset after being saved by Uncle Sam.

Nathan - Thank God we had time to save ourselves from the framers' socialistic mistake! We'll still define cruel and unusual punishment the way they did in 1789, but when it comes to making money from mail delivery, the Constitution must evolve.

Posted by Richard Frost on September 16, 2011 10:39 PM

So you think someone should be paid 75k a year to sit at a desk in some remote town and handle a half dozen pieces of mail per day?

Where do I sign up for that job?

All this romantic talk about the post office being the center of life in small town America feels like grumpy old men talking about the good old days.

They weren't that good. Time to move on.

Posted by Robert Smith on September 17, 2011 10:40 AM

Robert,

Since you think that such jobs are desirable and exist, it should be easy for you to sign up for them.

My point is that the post office continues to provide a valuable and cheap service that serves everyone, everywhere and so is worth continuing, not because of nostalgia for a bygone era.

The post office is being targeted because, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they are government-run cost-efficent services that benefit everyone and so, in the eyes of the oligarchy, must go

Posted by Mano on September 17, 2011 01:00 PM

Mano,

I agree with you that the Postal Service is a valuable and necessary part of our infrastructure. But I don't think that service in remote areas should be fully subsidized.

The small company that I work for in downtown Cleveland uses the mail mostly to send items to other small companies in Cleveland. Usually within a five or six mile radius. Should a person in northern Maine or rural Alaska be charged the same rate to send a letter to New York as a Cleveland business is charged to send a letter to another Cleveland business? The costs to the delivery system are vastly different.

Living in a remote area is a choice, which has costs and benefits, different from the costs and benefits of living in a city...why not allow the post office to recognize this? Don't end it, but allow it to charge sustainable rates based on the cost of its operations, which increase with distance and difficulty of delivery. Of course, Congress would have to authorize any changes, so I don't have high hopes.

Posted by Frank on September 17, 2011 07:45 PM

Frank,

You could tweak the current model, but one has to bear in mind that there is a tradeoff between reflecting the actual cost of a service and simplicity of use.

I think that the cost of mail is so low that it may not be worth it to have variable pricing. Having different mailing costs for different parts of the country would mean that we would have to look up all the time how much stamps we need to use. Mass mailings would become complicated.

One could envisage a compromise like a flat fee for the most common mailings (like first class) and variable for other things like packages, assuming that the extra revenue is worth the extra effort.

Posted by Mano on September 17, 2011 11:08 PM

I'm not sure where the 75k salary figure comes from, but my wife's grandmother and aunt were both postmasters in the town she grew up in. They didn't make half that. And this is in the relatively wealthy New England state of Vermont.

The town is small by any definition: 800 residents, mostly farming families. But it had it's own post office (operated out of the first floor of the house).

And living there wasn't a choice at all - where you're born is no more a choice than the color of your skin. When you're born into poverty it's unimaginably difficult to escape it. If you think otherwise, you clearly aren't too familiar with the reality.

Working for the state or federal government are pretty much the only good jobs in areas like that. It's not at all a good idea to cut them.

Posted by Peter on September 18, 2011 06:15 PM

I think that the cost of mail is so low that it may not be worth it to have variable pricing.

Worth it for whom, we should probably ask. For businesses, which might send a large volume of mail where the actual delivery cost to the post office is low, I'd guess the change in price could be significant, and beneficial. For hard-to-reach individuals, the change would be significant, and negative. For the government, the total costs and total revenue would remain the same, assuming that (with either fixed or variable prices) the prices are set to just cover costs, and not to make a significant profit.

But there is social value in subsidizing communication to geographically isolated people, so they won't also be informationally isolated. 200 years ago, that meant a public post office. These days, publicly supported Internet access could be beneficial as well.

Posted by Paul Jarc on September 19, 2011 03:01 PM

I am not a fan of much that the government subsidizes. But, I don't mind the postal service. Sure, it might be more fair to charge more depending on where something is being sent. The greatest strength of the postal service is that it is simple. You put a stamp on something and it is ready to go. You weigh a package and you know how much it will cost.

I think the postal service would lose almost all of its business to UPS/FedEx etc. if they were to go to a regional pay structure. So I think it is either keep it similar to how it is, or get rid of it altogether.

Posted by PCN on September 22, 2011 01:04 PM